Why it pays to pay it forward because we all gain something from that

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Goodwill to all men

In my last blog, I wrote my own version of the The 12 Days of Christmas, the premise being that it’s important to think about the gifts you can give to yourself to ensure your mental wellbeing is kept in check. It has after all, been a year quite unlike any other and so, to bolster ourselves against whatever 2021 might bring us, it’s about making sure you use the oxygen mask first, before helping others.

A reminder of one of the gifts I suggest you give to yourself:

A good deed for my neighbour

A chat on the doorstep, taking the bin back, some homemade baked goods – each small act of kindness can help to lift the spirits of someone who might be in need of some good cheer. Sometimes, we’ve no idea the impact it can have on another, to make time for them, to hold space for them in your day. And the effect on you is warm and fuzzy, that you could have made the difference to someone who otherwise might have gone to bed feeling weary and sad after a fraught and maybe lonely day. Thinking of others rather than just ourselves has healing properties for us too. It helps to give us perspective on what other people go through. It’s food for thought when we might be lamenting about the problems we face. It doesn’t negate our challenges but helps to give us a view on what other people live through.

With this in mind, I thought I’d listen to my own advice and begin my 12 days of Christmas. I knew my local Church was planning to distribute Christmas food parcels to those in the community who had had a particularly challenging year, so I got involved. There were 40 boxes to pack and these were filled with a variety of pantry staples, fresh fruit and vegetables, plus some lovely Christmas treats such as mince pies, boxes of biscuits, and Christmas chocolate selection boxes. Then on Friday last week, I drove round distributing my allocated boxes.

Man, do I feel sorry for delivery drivers who deliver out in the sticks! You get given a name, a house name and a road and that’s it. Go figure. Whilst not being a large village, there are tiny lanes, tracks and alleyways off one of the ‘main’ roads in the village and houses tucked away from view. If you don’t know those dwellings, you don’t tend to know the names of the houses, so it was an education for me in many ways.

I have to admit, I was a bit trepidatious in my approach. How would the food parcels be accepted? Some might be proud people, minding their own business and see it as charity when a stranger pitches up – perhaps viewed as a do-gooder, and the gift might not be received in the spirit in which it was intended. I braced myself to be told: ‘Get off my land!’.

My concerns were unfounded, and I met some truly warm and friendly people who received the food with much gratitude. For some, it was clear they were unwell and that these past months had been incredibly difficult for them; others, who lived alone, were elderly and clearly lonely and so they loved the opportunity to chat to a visitor. Maintaining social distancing was always at the forefront of my mind but a chat in the garden can be done safely and if it meant they left the conversation with a meaningful exchange, as well as a food parcel, I was only too happy to natter. One offered me a donation for the Church, which I of course politely refused, and one asked me how much money I wanted “because the Church always wants money!” I was happy to disprove his gentle joshing remark! One lady, who hasn’t been to the village shop since March because she has asthma, and is so fearful of catching the Coronavirus, was close to tears because of ‘the generosity this community has shown’.

I did it all for you… or did I?

Now, I am not telling you of this experience to paint myself in a good light, nor to make out that I have performed some altruistic act. For there is no such thing as a selfless good deed. Some people think that because they feel they’ve gone out of their way to do something ‘for’ someone, they have performed an act of altruism. Not so. These acts do not exist, they are in fact positive acts of selfishness. Whatever we do, will always sit most emotionally comfortable with us – with our values. Every single choice and decision we make, will be made in accordance with our values, so if you don’t know what your values are, you’re effectively sleepwalking through life, not knowing why you do the things you do. When you view it as a positive act of selfishness, you realise it’s a win-win situation!

I did what I did because it sits with one of my core values – that being Community; I did it because I want to give back; I did it because I feel incredibly warm and fuzzy when you see the happiness/gratitude/relief/unexpected joy. And of course, it wasn’t like I was some good Samaritan, I was merely a messenger spreading the good cheer.

If you believe altruism is alive and well, I invite you to write down the last thing you did for anybody that involved no thanks, appreciation, nice words or fuzzy feelings, increased self-respect, salving of conscience or avoidance of guilt, or any combination of these.  In other words, the last totally altruistic act you performed with no payoff for you whatsoever. There is none. Joey and Phoebe did a pretty good job at proving there is no such thing as a selfless good deed in this episode from Friends.

The warmth of humanity

We are all part of a community in one form or another. The community does not have to be restricted to the place in which you live – it could be the community of your workplace, a place of worship, a sports team or a University, or the school where you are a parent, to name but a few. It might be an online community which for so many in 2020, has been a lifeline.

You can of course choose not to develop any kind of friendship or engage in any social chit chat with the individuals with whom you share this community but surely life is richer if you do. You may find common ground unexpectedly and find a kindred spirit, a new business contact or someone who you form a quid pro quo relationship with, such as helping out with childcare.

A community can be a strong cohesive group, supporting each other and sharing both the bad and the good times.

I appreciate we’re not all sociable beings but my point to all this is that no man is an island. There are some who say they prefer to be an island, such as people like Hugh Grant’s character in About a Boy (please be warned there’s a sweary in the clip!), but even he eventually realised there are advantages to allowing people into your life. As humans, we are a social species and it’s about finding our tribe, forming a bond and being there for each other. This year has proved more than ever that with the help of others, we can get through the most challenging of times. It’s about calling on others for help, admitting when we need support and being there for those who need it.

We see the world through our own unique lens, in other words, our individual Mental Map - based on our perceptions, values and experiences; as opposed to how the world really is. Therefore, if we’re going to rub along in this big ole world, which actually, since the global pandemic, feels quite a bit smaller – I think it’s important to get perspective on our worries, issues and challenges and to appreciate that other people have theirs too. It’s all relative so be kind to yourself but in a world where we can be anything, it’s important that we’re kind and understanding too.

Maybe it’s worth thinking about the community or communities that you are a member of – how well do you know those around you? Would it be mutually beneficial and a pleasant experience to strike up a conversation? If you’re having a not-so-great day and perhaps feel the world is against you, take stock and reframe your thoughts. Think about the good things in your life and the people who move in and out of your day-to-day comings and goings. We are shown kindness in so many ways – be it a smile, a shoulder to cry on or simply a cup of tea made for us, it all helps to restore our faith in humankind. Get out there in your community and pass on the goodwill - take the time to muster a passing hello or indeed a quick chat to pass the time of day. You never know whose day you are helping to improve with merely a smile. There’s no telling what action we carry out that makes a positive impact in the community.

As Mother Teresa said: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”


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